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LifeVest wearable defibrillator provides reassurance for at-risk heart patients

LifeVest wearable defibrillator provides reassurance for at-risk heart patients

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EFFINGHAM – Bob never left Irene Floyd’s side after she was diagnosed with heart failure in July. The two were inseparable for weeks.

“Bob and I went everywhere together,” Floyd said.

Bob was literally Floyd’s bosom buddy, strapped in so close to her rib cage he was able to tell when the 74-year-old’s heart went into a potentially fatal rhythm while she slept at home Aug. 10. That’s when the wearable defibrillator LifeVest she’d nicknamed Bob delivered a shock that saved her life.

Since approved by the FDA in 2001, wearable defibrillators have been used as a bridge for patients who are at a high risk for a heart attack while awaiting treatment. During cardiac arrest, CPR will keep blood pumping through the body manually, but a defibrillator can restart the heart entirely, getting oxygen to the brain.

“All it does is send a shock and the idea is it resets the whole system and the hope is the regular conduction system of the heart takes over,” said cardiologist John Scally.

Scally prescribed the LifeVest after Floyd visited the Prairie Heart Institute at St. Anthony Hospital. The vest is used for at-risk patients, such as those with congestive heart failure, those who have had a heart attack, and before or after bypass or stent surgery. It monitors the heart's rhythm and sends a report to the doctors if a patient isn't wearing the device.

After a diagnosis, there's a series of therapies doctors try before putting in a permanent implant, but there's also a risk to waiting.

“There’s this period early on when someone's been diagnosed,” Scally said. “It's a dangerous period and they can have one of these rhythms develop and we didn’t have anything to do but keep our fingers crossed.”

What Floyd thought were panic attacks, was diagnosed as cardiomyopathy. Her heart was weak and having irregular beats. That same day, a nurse came to their Neoga home to show Floyd and her husband, David, how to use the vest.

“Dr. Scally insisted that she wear this,” David Floyd said. “And I was so glad.”

Floyd wore it day and night under her clothes, only taking it off to bathe. The vest came with a rechargeable battery that she carried with an over-the-shoulder sling.

“Everywhere I went, it went, and well, I had to have a name for it,” Irene Floyd said.

Somewhere along the way, the device picked up the name Bob. Eventually she became so comfortable with Bob, Floyd sometimes forgot he was there. She wore the vest to bed every night, so when her heart started shaking instead of pumping one night the vest delivered a shock that woke her.

“I remember yelling at Bob,” Floyd said. The device emitted a shrill alarm alerting David Floyd to call 911. At the hospital, her heart faltered once more, and again the vest delivered a lifesaving shock. Bob delivered several more shocks during the next 24 hours and Floyd didn’t take him off until she was wheeled into the operating room where surgeons replaced him with an implanted pacemaker.

Floyd now takes medication to steady her heart rate and while Bob isn't around anymore, her pacemaker is a reminder of what happened.

“It makes you appreciate today because tomorrow is not a promise,” Floyd said.


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